Trashditions: Nebraska's Balloon Release at Home Games Has Always Been Dumb and Bad

By David Regimbal on October 23, 2020 at 7:25 pm
Nebraska's Balloon Release
© Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This is a weekly spotlight that highlights a trash football tradition of Ohio State's upcoming opponent. This week, we're roasting Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers have a lot of dumb traditions.

From "The Pre-Game Spectacular" that has the band performing fight songs in the stadium 5.5 hours before kickoff, to fans applauding the opponent even if said opponent had just horse-kicked their team the previous three-plus hours, there are a number of things about the Nebraska football program that are corny.

But there's one tradition that stands alone in most people's head. We're of course talking about the ridiculous game-day balloon release.

Tradition's Origin

Nebraska's balloon release has been around since the 1940's, remarkably. As Cornhuskers fans enter Memorial Stadium, red balloons with the Nebraska logo are distributed. The fans take them to their seats, and immediately after the Cornhuskers score their first points, the helium-filled balloons are released into the air. 

Why It's Trash

First of all, it's dumb on principle. 

Think about Ohio State's trip to Lincoln last year. The Buckeyes dominated that football game, especially in the first half in which it ran up 38 unanswered points. Nebraska didn't get on the board until there were two minutes and seven seconds on the clock in the third quarter.

"It's special," this unnamed Cornhuskers fan said in a spotlight of the tradition. "It makes you feel like you're part of something a little bit bigger than yourself. I think that's really important."

You know what else makes you feel that way? Simply attending the football game.

And it probably didn't feel special for those poor Cornhuskers fans watching Ohio State that night. They had to hold on to those balloons for over two-and-a-half hours. Imagine getting up at halftime and sadly carrying your balloon to the concession stand or the bathroom.

In last week's No Cap Pod, our own Jason Priestas and Johnny Ginter, along with former Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell, poked fun at the tradition. Powell called out the Nebraska faithful for their "Pennywise" energy, but the truly golden idea came from Ginter.

"If they don't score by like the fourth quarter, what I want all of them to do is take those helium balloons and suck in all the helium, and then I want to hear them boo their team with their helium voices."

But above all, the absolute worst part of the tradition is that it's absolutely terrible for the environment.

Releasing thousands of latex balloons into the open sky seven or eight times a year, letting them travel any way the wind blows with no collection or disposal process is insanity. An ordinary helium balloon can travel hundreds of miles before returning to the ground, and there was one instance in 2018 when a balloon suspected to be released at the stadium in Nebraska that travelled 1,400 miles to a New York beach.

It's thousands of instances of literal littering that somehow goes unpunished. In 2016, the university was sued by a Nebraska resident to ban the tradition because of the harm it was causing the environment. A federal judge dismissed the case because Nebraska is a state agency and can't be sued in federal court. 

Nonprofit organizations, Nebraska professors and eco-minded Nebraska students have all made efforts to abolish the tradition, but all have come up short.

I'm certain the fight against this eighty year tradition will wage on, and hopefully reason can win in the end. But at the very least, 2020 will provide a brief hiatus from the madness thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic largely keeping fans out of Big Ten stadiums this fall.

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